Slack defending leads to shock defeat for Barca

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Football is a funny old game, a famous old English striker never tired of telling British TV viewers in the 80's, and that was certainly the case today at the Camp Nou where Barcelona went down 3-2 to Valencia to lose at home in La Liga for the first time since Real Madrid won there in April 2012.

- Report: Barcelona 2-3 Valencia

The defeat now hands the baton over to the two Madrid sides in the chase for the La Liga title. Both have tough assignments on Sunday with Atletico entertaining Real Sociedad and Real going to Athletic Bilbao, but it is very likely that Barca will finish the weekend knocked from the top of La Liga for the first time in 59 consecutive matches.

There was a subdued atmosphere in the Camp Nou from the start. Perhaps it was the strange "British style" kick-off time of 4pm, or the early Saturday morning death of Spain's Euro 2008 winning manager Luis Aragones, for whom a minute's silence was paid before the match, or maybe it was the fact that home games tend to be fairly predictable wins for this Barca side -- whatever it was, something was not right.

However, Barca enjoyed complete dominance from the start until the 37th minute when Ricardo Costa headed Valencia’s first corner just past the post, but even then there was no warning of the defensive collapse that was to come.
It was a chain of events that led to a Gerardo "Tata" Martino-coached Barca side conceding three goals for the first time and consisted in some comical defending, some highly ineffective performances going forward and to top it all, a red card for Jordi Alba.

The Blaugrana started in great fashion and it came as no surprise when Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring after just seven minutes. The Chilean's goal was one of those that you could watch 100 times and still be undecided on whether he meant it or not, much in the vein of some of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's best strikes. If he did mean the chipped finish from a wide right position, he is finally showing he is a serious world class talent; he was Barca's most dangerous player during their near-40 minutes of domination.

Sanchez was getting on the end of everything Lionel Messi was able to deliver to him and he came close to his second with a header that Valencial goalkeeper Diego Alves parried out. Indeed Barca could have had a number of goals and it felt like an average home game until just before the break.

Dani Parejo was destined for greatness as a youth player at Real Madrid but he only managed five games for their first team before ending up at Valencia via spells at Getafe and QPR. He has not shown too many flashes of ability in the last few seasons, but what he did on 44 minutes changed this game and could have a profound effect on Barca's season.

Slight in build, Parejo should never have won the fifty-fifty challenge he contested with the normally reliable Sergio Busquets 30 yards from goal, but he did and went on to exchange passes with Sofiane Feghouli before slotting home the equaliser. Where did that come from?

Suddenly, Barca did not look the sure fire bet for a home win, but the poor second half performance still came as a shock. Valencia went ahead four minutes after the break with a strange goal that carried a bit of luck from Pablo Piatti, who managed to loop a header over Victor Valdes after Gerard Pique had reached for a cross from the right, but only deflected it behind him and towards goal.

There was a huge piece of luck also in the Barca equaliser on 54 minutes after a dubious handball by Roberto Costa that Messi delighted in taking advantage of from the penalty spot, but it meant nothing five minutes later when slack defending gifted Valencia with the winner.

Conceding goals from the centre of the pitch and from clever wing play can be pardoned, but the way Feghouli waltzed to the end-line after receiving the ball from a throw-in was inexcusable. Busquets and Javier Mascherano were the culprits in allowing him to do so before the Algerian pulled the ball back for Paco Alcacer to finish at pleasure.

Iniesta came on for Xavi with 25 minutes remaining, but Barca work best going forward when both players are given the freedom to produce their magic from the middle of the pitch. As it was, there was little spark and then even less when Alba left the pitch after a second yellow.

Messi nearly saved things with what would have been one of the goals of the season in the last moments: he managed to combine three one-twos to guide the ball from a throw-in to the six-yard box but saw his shot glide just wide. Even he looked clumsy at times in the second half on a night Barca will want to forget.

Messi, however, is the last one to blame. There were unsure performances all over the pitch and for some unexplained reason you could almost see the confidence drain from their play on Parejo's goal.

For Valencia, it was a first win at the Nou Camp in over 10 years and a special night for coach and former Barca player Juan Antonio Pizzi. For Barca, it is time to watch other results and get used to being number two, or even number three in La Liga.

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